4 ways to survive the Money Hunger Games
Every consumer needs a cornucopia of skills to win at the money game
For anyone who's facing down challenges like trying to
get out of credit card debt or improve their credit score, it can feel like
you're at the mercy of your circumstances -- much like the tributes chosen to
compete in "The Hunger Games."
Fear not. With the lessons gleaned from the novel and hit
film, you can conquer the Games, and live a prosperous life in the
"victor's village" of great credit.
1. Win over your sponsors
Hunger Games protagonists and "tributes" Katniss Everdeen
and Peeta Mellark wisely play up their romantic relationship to the citizens of
Panem in order to win them over and score useful items to give them an
advantage during their fight for survival in the arena.
Similarly, when applying for a loan or line or credit,
you have to prove your worth -- quite literally -- in order to be approved and
get the best rates. And your credit score is often the most important piece of
"You need to
develop a cornucopia [yes, that's a Hunger Games reference]] to help increase
your credit score," says Harrine Freeman, CEO of H.E. Freeman Enterprises and author
of "How to Get Out of Debt: Get an 'A' Credit Rating for Free." That includes
everything from fixing errors on your credit report to paying down debt to
reconciling outstanding accounts.
in mind that your credit score is a snapshot of your credit today, says Wayne
Sanford, a credit consultant and owner of Texas-based New Start Financial
Corp. In other words, you can improve your score in as little as 30 days
if you can manage to pay off some of your debt or lower your debt utilization (the ratio between how much debt is owed and how much credit is
"Start by contacting
your creditors and ask them when they report to the credit bureaus," he
suggests. That way, you'll know when to expect your new and improved score, so
you can move forward and apply for your loan at the right time (and get the
best interest rate possible).
If you don't
have the means to make a significant payment toward your balances, another
option is to ask for a raise in your credit limit. Doing so successfully will
lower your debt utilization amount, says Sanford. For instance, if you owe $250
with a $500 credit limit, you are utilizing 50 percent of your credit; get your
limit changed to $1,000, and now you are only using 25 percent.
going to give this method a shot, Sanford says to be sure your creditor can do
this based on your history of on-time payments, rather than having them check
your credit history, which in and of itself can knock your credit score down a
few points. "If they do have to pull your credit, you have to make the
determination if you want that extra inquiry on your report," he says.
2. Take advantage of a mentor's experience and knowledge
Just as former Hunger Games victor Haymitch Abernathy
ends up sharing his insider knowledge with his districts' chosen competitors,
so, too, can a financial adviser help you craft a wise credit strategy. This
could be anyone from a financially savvy uncle to your accountant to a
financial planner. The key is to learn to recognize when you need assistance
and then know where to go to get it.
Freeman says if you fall into one of these categories,
you might want to consider a money mentor: "If you keep making the same
financial mistakes over and over again, if you do not have knowledge about how
to effectively manage your finances or if you are living paycheck to paycheck."
As far as who to trust with your cash concerns, Denise Winston,
founder of Money Start Here, a financial education company, says to do your
homework. "A great place to start is a nonprofit consumer credit counseling
service. They offer free or low-cost advice; do a little research on them to
make sure they are on the up and up," she says. Be sure the service is
affiliated with either the Association of Independent Consumer Credit
Counseling Agencies or the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
3. Be ready for unexpected challenges/rule changes
Just when the contestants seem to be getting the hang of
things, the Hunger Games gamemakers shake things up in the arena by setting
fires in their paths or flash floods (not to mention Tracker Jacker or wolf
mutt attacks). That's pretty relatable to anyone who works hard to keep their
spending in check, only to be hit with a broken down car, busted water heater
or unexpected medical bills.
"One of the smartest ways to play and win at the
financial game of life is to play strategically," says Winston. In other words,
establishing an emergency fund can help you handle whatever comes your way. To
get one started, Winston suggests strategically using your tax refund, bonuses,
overtime pay, unexpected gifts and windfalls to infuse your emergency stash. From
there, you can get into a routine of contributing a set amount -- no matter how
small -- from each paycheck. "Another tip: Put your emergency funds into an
account that is inconvenient so it is hard to access and you will not be tempted
to spend it," says Winston, "similar to how Katniss hid her bow in the
forest brush and her arrows in the trees" to use when she needed to hunt when
food was scarce.
Of course, you
may also have to deal with situations beyond your control, such as an
unresolved billing error that results in a collections notice. "Understand if
you have bills, you can always negotiate with creditors (i.e. the hospital). And
you need to be prepared to watch your own back," says Sanford. That means
keeping paper trails and documenting any communications you have. "If you're
having an issue, make notes (on this date, I talked to this person), and ask whomever
you're speaking with to put your dispute in their system's internal notes," he
says. Finally, he says, go straight up the chain to a supervisor if your credit
is at stake, to be sure you get the resolution you need.
At the heart of "The
Hunger Games" is a story about using your smarts, your meager resources and
whatever means necessary to survive. The same could be said for anyone trying
to get by in today's tough economy, especially those who find themselves out of
you're a worthy opponent, you'll come up with clever ways to stretch your
dollar. For example, Winston's favorite source of free money comes from an
unexpected place. "Receipts are cash,
not trash," she says. "They allow you to return unused items, surveys on
them net freebies, discounts and contest entries, coupons for future purchases,
money back on price match programs, not to mention tax deductions," she says.
On a broader
scale, Sanford recommends taking the next month to carefully assess every bill
you pay. Question whether you can get a better rate on your car insurance, if
you can downgrade your cellphone or cable bills, etc. A couple of hours of
research and a few phone calls can net you a nice chunk of monthly savings, he
could stand to cut back on all of those unnecessary daily purchases from
bottled water (bring your own), to commuting costs (carpool or bike it), to
personal grooming services (cut back where you can). Think of it this way: A
few small sacrifices hardly compares to Katniss volunteering to replace her
younger sister, Primrose, as her district's tribute in the 74th
Hunger Game, but it can make all the difference.
See related: Top 10 Hollywood credit card movies
Published: April 10, 2012